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The fewer calories we eat, the fatter we get

June 19th 2013 / Anna Hunter


According to a new study, the fewer calories we consume the more flab we end up with, writes Anna Hunter

Just when we were feeling angelic for declining that mid-morning chocolate digestive, we’re delivered the news that actually, eating fewer calories might not make a blind bit of difference to our waistlines. To make matters worse, it appears that even when we consume fewer calories as a nation, our muffin tops still stubbornly swell. BUT WE DIDN’T EAT ANY MUFFINS. Someone, somewhere, has some explaining to do.

To account for this injustice, I bring in the Institute of Fiscal Studies. These guys are pretty official, it must be said, and the findings of their full, five-year study regarding calories consumed in correlation with weight will be published later this summer. They’ve given us a taster of their research results so far, and the data revealed is sure to leave anyone who’s frantically cutting down on the calories with a bitter taste in their mouth.

The IFS report that the average adult in the UK now weighs up to 30 pounds more (14kg), despite a 20% decrease in calories consumed. We’ve improved our eating habits at home, swapping fatty fry-ups for more health-giving breakfasts, switching red meat for fish and lowering our alcohol consumption. Such conscientious changes should surely pay off when it comes to shifting the pounds, but in spite of a dietary cull of around 600 calories per day our belts are nevertheless tightening.

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This seemingly unfair equation becomes more just when we consider that we are significantly less active as a population than we were in the eighties. Hours at a desk and spending evenings in front of a screen starve us of physical activity, yet ironically our constant emailing, texting and social networking contribute to making us feel frazzled and exhausted.

In May the results of a Weight Watchers survey provided alarming proof of the extent of our idle lifestyles, bringing to light that the average modern Brit spends more than 20 hours a day sitting or lying down. Worse still, the survey found that 67% of people now spend the majority of the day in a sedentary state, yet 54% still believed that they had busy, active lives despite this. Unfortunately, refreshing our screen cannot mimic the revitalising effects of a good old-fashioned jog, and expert nutritionist and health writer Ian Marber thinks it’s about time we found some balance, got active and stopped counting the calories:

“I think that the findings underline the folly of just counting calories. Other nutritional factors contribute to weight gain, such as simple carbohydrate and sugar consumption. Whilst these may contain fewer calories than fat (5 calories per gram as opposed to 9 per gram of fat) they can lead to excess insulin production which in turn encourages the storage of glucose rather than it being available as a source of fuel to make energy.

“Combined with a sedentary lifestyle, this can only lead to an overall increase in fat stores. It’s not just scheduled exercise that counts, it’s the day to day activity that’s lacking in many people’s daily routines - walking rather than driving, taking the stairs instead of the escalator or the lift for example.”

We’re talking ‘bout a revolution. Less maths, more moves. That’s a lifestyle I’d subscribe to.

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